Mink infected two humans with COVID-19, Dutch government says

File photo of a farmed mink. (Konstantin Sokolov/iStock/Getty Images)

Amsterdam | Reuters — Mink with the coronavirus have infected two people in the Netherlands in what are probably the first such cases of transmission during the epidemic, government and health authorities said on Monday.

Mink carrying the virus were found on four of the 155 farms in the country where they are bred for their fur, Agriculture Minister Carola Schouten said in a letter to parliament that detailed the two cases.

She said the risk of such animal-to-human transmission of the virus outside the farms was “negligible.”

On three of the four infected farms, the source of infection has been shown to be a sick human, while the fourth is still under investigation, the minister said.

The Netherlands’ Institute for Health’s (RIVM) director Jaap van Dissel said that, while a few cats and other animals had been infected with COVID-19 by humans, the Dutch mink-to-human transmissions were practically unique.

“This is the first time we’ve found, at least we’ve shown that it’s likely, that in two cases the infection has gone from animal to human,” he said in testimony to parliament on Monday.

“Of course the original source of infection in China was also very likely animals.”

A law banning mink farming in the Netherlands was passed in 2013, and the remaining farms are due to cease operations in 2023.

Canada, at the end of 2018, had 98 mink farms, down from 237 in 2014, according to data from Statistics Canada. Of those 98, 43 were in Nova Scotia and 28 in Ontario.

Canada’s National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) maintains a code of practice for the care and handling of farmed mink. A five-year review was completed in 2018.

NFACC, on its website, says the code is “currently undergoing an amendment” expected to be completed in March next year. Issues flagged as “major challenges” which are expected to be addressed in those amendments include pen sizes, access to nest boxes and methods of euthanizing mink.

— Reporting for Reuters by Toby Sterling. Includes files from Glacier FarmMedia Network staff.

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